SAN JOSE The Sharks six-game homestand didnt start out too well for Antti Niemi.
At home against the Penguins on Nov. 3 after just completing a long road trip, the Sharks came out flat and quickly surrendered two goals to Pittsburgh in just over two minutes. Although they werent completely Niemis fault, Todd McLellan pulled his netminder and Thomas Greiss play allowed the team to come from behind and win in a shootout, 4-3.
After Niemi allowed four goals to Nashville in a 4-3 loss in the second game, his numbers fell below the goalies version of the Mendoza Line. His goals-against average was above three (3.09) and his save percentage below .900 (.892).
McLellan, though, stuck with him. In a key division matchup against the Kings on Nov. 7, Niemi made 29 saves in a 4-2 win. He followed that up by allowing just one goal against the Minnesota Wild in a 3-1 home win for the Sharks on Nov. 10, with 21 saves.
After Greiss took the 3-0 loss to Phoenix on Nov. 12, Niemi came back on Thursday night and played perhaps his best game of the season. With the Red Wings all over the Sharks early, Niemi allowed just one goal in the first period on 17 Detroit shots when a power play blast from the point by Niklas Kronwall went in off of Dan Boyle.
The Red Wings scored just once more in garbage time, again on the power play, but that came after the Sharks scored five unanswered goals and already had the game decided. When it was over, Niemi had a season-high 40 saves.
San Jose finished their run at HP Pavilion with a 4-1-1 record.
Its a good homestand. When you get nine out of 12 points, its good, said Joe Thornton. Nemo played great, and that definitely helps. That was probably the key.
Niemi, of course, missed all of training camp and the preseason after a cyst was surgically removed from his leg. McLellan has said all along that it might take some time for his starting goalie to work his way into season. By all indications, Niemi is playing his best hockey of the still young 2011-12 campaign.
I asked him on Friday if the game against the Red Wings was the best hes felt all year.
It was pretty close, for sure, said Niemi, who now sports a respectable 2.67 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. I was pretty confident and patient.
Like most goalies, Niemi was just fine with getting so much work early from a swarming Red Wings team.
When you get lots of shots in first and they dont score too many goals, its easier to keep going in the second and third, he said.
The Sharks now go back on the road, where they will face two teams struggling for wins. Dallas got off to a hot start but has lost its last three, while Colorado has just one win in its last eight games. The Stars and Avalanche play one another on Friday night.